What Will You Do To Be The Preferred Parent In Divorce?

rulesetting.jpgMore and more Nebraska families with children are single-parent families. According to the 2014 Kids Count Report, “one of the most troubling trends for child well-being is the steady decline in the percentage of children living with two married parents.” 2013 data indicates, 131,000 or 30% of Nebraska children lived in single parent homes. In 2012, nationally, 35 percent of children were living with a single parent, with about half of all children spending a portion of their childhood in a single-parent home.

It is natural when single parents are hurting, to want to be the parent who the children prefers to be with. Children learn quickly which parent will say “yes” and which parent will say “no” to specific requests. It is easy for children to create “competition” between parents about who will provide the most things or which parent will lighten up on the rules in order to be “the preferred parent.” During divorce and custody, parents typically have less time to spend with their children and less money to buy children the things they need and or want.

For these reasons co-parents want to give children additional gifts, stretch the rules and plan special experiences. It is typical for one parent to have more discretionary income than the other. When parents try to gain their child’s love by providing stuff, entertainment, and unjustified privileges children may become manipulative and feel entitled. Here are a few strategies which create cooperation in which the children and parents both benefit.

  • Come up with an agreement with the other parent about how much stuff children really need. Flexibility is also important.
  • If one parent, or possibly grandparents are able to provide “the extras” such as violin lessons and soccer shoes, the co-parent can “reframe” and feel grateful rather than feeling inadequate.
  • It is OK to say “It is not in my budget” in a kind way which lets the kids know you are appreciative about what the other parent is able to provide.
  • Plan family time to communicate and teach life skills. These may include family meals, homework, household chores, pick-up basketball games or going to the park.
  • Provide the “extras” such as a new bicycle or a concert ticket on special occasions. This will create special memories, and minimize the sense of entitlement.
  • Set at least 6 rules that both homes will stick to so there is consistence between houses. The more guidelines or rules that both houses can agree on, the easier it will be for both parents as well as children.

Continue to strive for cooperative relationships with your co-parent to best meet the unique needs of each of your children. It’s not easy, however it is worth it.

Click here for additional information about creating peaceful solutions for children and parents who are experiencing divorce, separation or custody transitions.

Gail Brand, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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8 Ways To Engage Parents In Childcare

Teacher with young studentsWelcome to our center, we are happy you are here and can’t wait to learn more about you! This is the message you should be sending every time a family enters your child care program. Families are important, they are our partners in the development, education and well-being of their child.

Keeping parents engaged at your center is an indicator for center retention. Ask yourself: Are parents welcome in your childcare center and classroom? Do you value families individually for who they are? Do you value the opinions families share with you? Communication is key, from the first phone call inquiring about child care to the last day a child is enrolled in the program, everyone must be engaged for the good of the child.

We cannot know a child without knowing their family. Developing relationships with families will ensure that no matter the topic, the message you need to share will be received. Here are 8 easy way to engage parents in the classroom and childcare center.

  1. Send a welcome letter to the child and family before they start in your center or classroom.
  2. Send home a stuffed animal friend and a journal and have parents and children create a page in your classroom book about what they did when the animal friend was at their house. Everyone gets a page and the book will be bound and kept in your classroom library.
  3. Post a note on your classroom door “I Spy…” invite families and children to add to the list all week, then discuss the list during circle time. Share the final results with all families via an e-mail, a note sent home or in your classroom newsletter.
  4. Write thank you notes. This can be as simple as “Thank you for sharing (your child) with me. We have so much fun playing and learning every day!”
  5. Write a class poem. Start it with “I come from…” encourage families to add their line(s) to the poem. Then post the final poem in the classroom for all to enjoy. Ask families for a family picture to hang near the poem. If families do not have a picture, offer to take one for them.
  6. Invite families in to talk about themselves. The families in your classroom are a wealth of knowledge just waiting for you to recruit them.
  7. Communicate in many different ways. E-mail will not reach everyone, neither will printed newsletters or verbal discussions. Try to utilize a number of ways when you have an important message to share.
  8. Send home family homework over long weekends, family vacations or winter break. This will be something fun for the children to talk about when they get back to school.

Click here for additional strategies for supporting children and families.

Jaci Foged, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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How To Talk To Your Child About Divorce

Father Holding Daughter's Hand

Talking to children about divorce is difficult. Many children find out that their parents are getting a divorce from other children or adults. This causes children to lose trust in their parents. The following tips can help both the child and parents with the challenge and stress of these conversations:

  • Do not keep the divorce a secret or wait until the last minute.
  • Take time to tell your child together.
  • Keep things simple and straightforward. Use age appropriate language.
  • Tell them the divorce is not their fault.
  • Admit that this will be sad and upsetting for everyone.
  • Reassure your child that you both still love them and will always be their parents.
    • Note:  It is important when talking to young children to not use the term love in this content, “I don’t love your father/mother anymore.”  Use the term you are not getting along anymore and it would be better if you lived in separate houses.  Leave the word “love” for how you will always love them (the child/children).  Otherwise they see you did love the other parent and now you don’t. Does that mean that you might not love me (the child) in the future too!
  • Do not discuss each other’s faults or problems with the child.
    • Note:  This can be very hurtful to your child.  Remember they are a part of both of you. In fact, it may be easy for them to criticize the other parent, but don’t join in because it still hurts them to hear criticism about the other parent.

An open communication between you and your child is very important while going through divorce.  It is always good to check with your child on how they are feeling.

Click here for more information on divorce and separation.

Gail Brand, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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Helping Children Cope With Severe Storms

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What Do Parents Need To Know?

The more parents encourage their children to talk about severe weather, the better children will feel. Start talking to them right away: When a storm is on the way, after the storm has passed, and time and time again afterwards. Children need to keep talking about their experiences. It is how all of us make sense out of things as human beings.

Children sometimes become the lost souls of a family in crisis. Adults can get so caught up in their own feelings that they don’t realize how emotional and difficult the experience is for children. Also, sometimes adults think it’s better to keep quiet and avoid stirring things up with the kids. But kids are aware that the adults in their lives are dealing with powerful emotions. They know something is happening and it’s important. They may not always get the facts straight, but they’re aware of the tension adults are experiencing. If adults don’t address difficult issues, the children will have to carry this burden all alone. They may feel it’s their fault. Adults need to be aware of what children feel and think, to listen to them, and talk openly and honestly with them.

If unsure where to start, try using the questions below to help get the child(ren) to start talking. This will be an ongoing process: Adults don’t get this figured out in one conversation and neither do children. It may not be easy for adults to discuss this over and over, but it is necessary to help the kids work through their fears and anxieties.

What did you see? How did you feel about it? How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it?

Activities That Can Help Children Cope

  • Have children talk to grandparents or parents and tape record or write down their storm-related stories.
  • Have toys such as fire trucks, ambulances, building blocks, puppets and dolls available that encourage play reenactment of children’s experiences and observations.
  • Children need close physical contact during times of stress to help them feel a sense of belonging and security. Structured children’s games that involve physical touching are helpful in this regard; for example, Ring Around the Rosie; London Bridge; Duck, Duck, Goose; and so forth.
  • Have the children do a mural on long paper or draw pictures about the storm focusing on what happened in their house or neighborhood when the big storm hit. Adults should help discuss these drawings afterwards.
  • When adults share their own feelings, fears and experiences, it legitimizes children’s feelings and helps them feel less isolated. If adults were afraid, then it’s OK for children to be afraid, also.
  • Adults need to admit when they don’t know the answers to questions. Find out the answers and let the children know what they are.
  • Explain to children that disasters are very unpredictable, and may cause things to happen that can even trouble adults. Even so, adults will always work very hard to keep children safe and secure.

Know When To Make Referrals

The following list of behaviors could indicate a child may need qualified professional help to deal with the storm-related stress. When the child:

  • demonstrates the desire to hurt himself or herself or others;
  • repeatedly expresses himself or herself in somber or self-deprecating terms;
  • starts to rely on dark colors and themes in artwork;
  • continues to act out aggressively or violently;
  • becomes more immature or too mature;
  • repeatedly wants to be alone;
  • sets fires or commits other destructive acts; and
  • deliberately and repeated harms animals.
Leanne Manning, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

This post was previously published as a PDF in 2005 for NebFact. It was originally written by Manning and is used with her permission.

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Peaceful Ways Of Communicating During Divorce Or Separation

iStock_000010173373SmallWhen parents are going through custody and divorce issues, conflict may reach a higher level. Often when in conflict, we communicate using words which blame and attack. These messages may begin with the word “You.” For example,

Mom attacks Dad’s character by saying, “You are very irresponsible. All the kids do when they are at your house is play video games.” Dad retaliates and says, The kids say you are a dictator. They never get to play video games; it’s always just homework and chores…never any fun.”

“I” messages are a way to express feelings and identify solutions, without attacking and blaming each other.

Steps For Using “I Messages”

  1. Explain feelings such as: concerned, worried, uncomfortable, disappointed, pleased or excited. “I feel…”
  2. Explain the behavior or action that brought on the feeling. “When…”
  3. Explain why, or the reason behind that feeling. ..”
  4. Explain or ask for a solution. Could we…” or “What are your ideas?”

Mom says, “Is this a good time to talk? I feel concerned when the kids don’t get their homework done because I don’t want them to fall behind in school. It seems like they would rather play video games than do their homework. What are your ideas?

Dad replies, “I don’t want them to fall behind on their school work either. It does make sense to limit video game time until after the homework is done. Let’s try it and see how it’s working.”

Additional Strategies:

Use neutral words similar to what are used in business situations.

Words such as concerned, worried, anxious are not as emotionally charged as words such as angry, bitter, sad or resentful, which sound more blaming and attacking.

Avoid absolutes such as “never” and “always.”

These words create hostility and barriers to solving the problem.

It is sometimes difficult to express feelings, especially when we focus more on the solution to a problem.  However, when communicating for mutual understanding, it is helpful for the other person to know how a certain problem is affecting you.  Being human, we see things from our own perspective, and we don’t always realize how our actions are affecting others.  This is especially true the younger we are, so it is helpful to use I-messages with our children so they can begin to understand how their actions affect others.

Putting “I” messages into practice is not always easy. It may take several times until you feel comfortable and confident using them with your co-parent. They are worth the effort to create peaceful solutions for your children, your co-parent and you!

Check out more about using “I Messages” here! Our website even includes a handy worksheet.

This post is part of our Co-Parenting for Successful Kids program. For more information click here.

Maureen Burson, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

This article was originally published by Burson as a PDF for Nebraska Extension. It is used with her permission.

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Family Strengths

Grandparents In Park With Grandchildren Riding Bikes

What makes a strong family? All families function differently and all families have strengths.

Retired UNL Family Life specialist, Doc. John DeFrain has done research for more than 20 years in several countries. Through research on families he found that there are six general qualities to help strengthen families. Pick out your families strengths as you look at these qualities.

Appreciation and affection

People in strong families deeply care for one another, and they let each other know this on a regular basis. This could be just sitting by a person’s side or giving them a quick hug and words of endearment such as I love you, I appreciate you.

Commitment

Members of strong families show a strong commitment to one another, investing time and energy in family activities. This doesn’t mean that you have to attend every activity – it might be a neighbor that fills in sometimes.

Positive Communication

Strong families are often task-oriented but they also need to spend time talking with and listening to one another just to stay connected. Again, this can be just a quick e-mail or phone call to say Hi and how is your day? You need to communicate about end of life issues before the time comes to actually use them.

Enjoyable Time Together

When children were asked what is a happy family they most often would say it is one that does things together. This might be having a day to clean the house or having a picnic inside. Research also shows that if family members are not in the best situation it takes one hour a week of a positive example for children to become resilient to the situations around them.

Successful Management Of Stress And Crisis

Strong families are not immune to stress and crisis, but they know how to work together to meet challenges when they inevitably occur in life.

Spiritual well-being

Spiritual well-being can be seen as the caring center within each individual that promotes sharing, love and compassion. This might be a faith in God, hope or a sense of optimism in life; some say they feel a oneness with the world.

Resources

Getting Connected, Staying Connected: The World Couples and Families Live In Today

Getting Connected, Staying Connected: What Are Our Strengths as a Couple? How Can We Build on Them?

Getting Connected, Staying Connected: How Couples Can Ensure a Meaningful and Happy Life Together

Eileen Krumbach, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

This article was previously published by Krumbach as a PDF for Nebraska Extension. It is published with full permission.

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Tips To Manage Holiday Stress

Managing holiday stressHundreds of dollars in spending and calendars overloaded with extra events and commitments can turn the holiday season from merry to miserable for many Americans.

Families are dynamic and they aren’t perfect. The holidays are a high-stress time due to more obligations, the blending of families who may not get along, overwhelming financial stress, and high expectations for traditions.

Families need to practice communication techniques before the holiday season gets busier. Small things can make a big difference, and playing games together can be one way to find that quality time. By playing games together, family members get to know each other better, talk, laugh and be silly.

Tips For Managing Holiday Stress

  • Try to celebrate one good thing each day, whether it’s getting out the door on time or taking a few minutes to chat about school or work.
  • Talk with each person in the family, including children, and let them know about changes in schedules or upcoming events.
  • Remember that kind words and acts go a long way. A hug or heartfelt “thanks” are meaningful and simple ways to express appreciation.
  • Show self-respect and be nice to family members who may be struggling with changes to routines or health behaviors.
  • Be realistic and communicate up-front about what the family can do. Identify which traditions are most important and which can be skipped or delayed, whether kids or adults can help with chores or events, and when the family plans to stay home and relax.
  • Take a slow, deep breath at multiple times throughout the day.
Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

This article was previously published for Nebraska Extension by Lisa as a PDF. It is re-published here with her permission.

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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